For as long as she could remember, Dana had wished boys liked her half as much as mosquitos did. Really, even a quarter as much would have been enough. She’d read once in a magazine that mosquitos were drawn to people who ate a lot of sugar or were overly emotional, and she was living proof that being both of those things was a guaranteed way to attract bugs and repel men. Not that she blamed the men for thinking she wasn’t much of a catch. If hips didn’t lie, she certainly hoped the tape measure did, and it was certainly hard to find a place for a man in your arms when you had a piece of cake in one hand and a box of tissues in the other.
That is, until Bader came along. Bader—he fit so easily into her life, and he was more attentive than the peskiest fly, but luckily much better looking and way harder for people to kill. Her relationship with him was a whirlwind of sweaty palms, racing pulses, and romantic words that sent her head spinning. She loved him. She wanted to spend the rest of her life with him. Sometimes, when she had had too much dessert with dinner, she would place her hands on her stomach and think, “This is what it will feel like when I am pregnant with our children.”
So, when Bader said that Facebook was getting dull and perhaps they should actually meet in person, Dana was thrilled. When he suggested December 27th, her heart almost burst because she just couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate her thirteenth birthday.
She told her parents she was meeting her friends at the mall, and her unsuspecting father dropped her off at three PM. She raced to Baroue, where they’d agreed to meet. Bader was already there, and for a few minutes after their first hellos she stared at him, transfixed. But only for a few minutes. Then she felt a hand close around her arm. She turned and saw her father—he had asked her to pick up a loaf of bread from Carrefour, and in one hand he held the two KD he had forgotten to give her for it. With his other hand, he dragged her home.
“Our daughter,” he said to Dana’s mother, “has been seeing men.” Then he pushed Dana into the living room, where her mother, brother, and sister all sat.
It annoyed Dana that her brother and sister should be present. Rays of judgment were emanating from her brother Qutaiba’s eyes. He would certainly not understand, considering what had happened with the girl he’d nearly proposed to last month. He’d decided to approach her at college first. He had spoken to her, she had spoken back, and his heart was now broken because he refused to marry any woman loose enough to talk to him just because he was talking to her.
But he was still better than her sister Fay, who didn’t believe in marriage or love at all. Dana always got the vague impression there was something Fay really hated about men but didn’t know what it was, although she’d had her suspicions after finding out Fay’s favorite book was called Bringing Back the Eunuch.
“Explain yourself!” Dana’s father demanded.
She looked at the floor.
“Were you or were you not attempting to go on a date?”
“Don’t you know dating is haram?”
“But Daddy, I love him!” Dana wailed.
“Love?” he spat. “What you call love is just lust. Why do you think we arrange marriages here? You should never be with someone because you are physically attracted to him. It will do nothing but hopelessly impair your judgment.”
Dana’s mother nodded. “Look at how unattractive your father is,” she said. “This is why we’re so happily married.”
Tears welled up in Dana’s eyes. “But I really do love him!”
“Enough!” her father said. “You’re grounded, and I’m keeping your mobile for the next month.”
“What?” she cried.
“Give me your mobile.”
With a huff Dana handed over her phone and stalked off to her bedroom. She opened up her laptop. At least she could still use Facebook on her computer, and to her delight, she had a new message waiting from Bader.
hope your not in trouble and i can see u agin bb u looked so pretty especially as you wer bein dragged away i miss u already, he said. one of the best dates i ever had even tho we didnt get to eat xx
This was by far the most romantic message Bader had ever sent her, but Dana found an odd feeling rising from the pit of her stomach. It was revulsion. Then it hit her that ever since their five-minute date she had been too focused on defending him and their relationship to remember what she’d felt when she actually laid eyes on him for the first time. It hadn’t been what she was expecting. Her fingers hovered over the computer keyboard reluctantly, but she knew what she had to do. Dear Bader, she typed, As much as I have enjoyed our relationship, I am afraid it can no longer continue, even though you are a wonderful man, especially when I am not actually with you. You see, our date today may have been brief but I cannot pretend I did not realize anything from it. I am sorry, but I don’t think it was really you I loved. She paused, wondering how much honesty was too much honesty. But perhaps, in the end, it would benefit him, so she continued: I just don’t find you attractive without Instagram filters.
She pressed send with a sigh of relief, but the click seemed to echo the beat of Bader’s heart, which was surely going to break. She put her hand to her forehead. She’d only been thirteen less than a day, but she could already tell it was going to be hard.